What’s the Best Way to Attract Great Teachers: Labor Market Regulation or School Level Decentralization?


The Case for Professional Licensure Regimes

Generally, I think professional licenses are only necessary in cases where (1) it is difficult for consumers to gauge the quality of service (2) the cost of error can result in very serious harm (3) and the license is a good proxy for quality.

In medicine, you can make decent (though not air tight) argument that these conditions apply.

The Case Against Teacher Licensure Regimes 

I don’t think teaching meets these requirements, especially considering that licensure (especially master degree requirements) have not seemed to be a great proxy for quality. Moreover, I think parents and students can probably identify the worst teachers (who can inflict the most harm) in a school. Admittedly, judging between average and excellent might be more difficult.

In Louisiana, the only requirement you need to teach in a charter school is a college degree. While this means Bill Gates couldn’t teach in the state, I think a four year degree requirement probably doesn’t restrict too many potentially great teachers, and the lack of licensure requirements means that teachers don’t have to jump through meaningless hoops to be in the classroom.

I’ve generally felt that a four year degree was all we needed for licensure.

The Case For Teacher Licensure Regimes

However, there is an another argument to consider. Creating more sophisticated barriers to entry could (1) create a regime where licensure requirements effectively screen for what makes a great teacher (2) or, simply though selectivy, make teaching a higher status profession, which thereby increases the caliber of people who are drawn into the profession.

The Case Against Licensure Regimes

You might grant that the best licensure regimes could potentially lead to there being more effective teachers.

But you also might say: I’m pretty sure that, over time, any licensure regime will be either poorly designed at the outset, become outdated quickly, or be corrupted by inside interests; i.e, look what good masters in education have done us.

You might argue: we should leave it up to schools, and not the government, to determine who is a great teacher. As long as truly hold schools accountable, they, over time, will best be able to determine what makes a great teacher.

Data from New York

This study just came out. They authors find:

Since the turn of the 21st century, however, a number of federal, state, and local teacher accountability policies have been implemented toward improving teacher quality over the objections of some who argue the policies will decrease quality. In this paper we analyze 25 years of data on the academic ability of teachers in New York State and document that since 1999 the academic ability of both individuals certified and those entering teaching has steadily increased. These gains are widespread and have resulted in a substantial narrowing of the differences in teacher academic ability between high and low poverty schools and between white and minority teachers. We interpret these gains as evidence that the status of teaching is improving.

The report attributes this to regulation, not the economy:

To bolster the evidence that teacher accountability policies drove the turnaround in the average academic ability of teachers, we examine and subsequently rule out the competing hypothesis that these trends could perhaps result from changes in the characteristics of the teacher labor market such as the size of the market or salaries. For example, as salaries increase, the quality of the teacher supply should increase. Similarly, if the market demands fewer teachers, schools should be better able to restrict their hiring to the higher end of the ability distribution. While these labor market changes (themselves influenced by the macroeconomic cycle and declines in enrollment) are likely behind some of the changes in academic ability, they are probably not the dominant driver.


I’m still spending time with the study, so I might get some stuff wrong here:

1. There’s a case to be made that, in NY, regulations drove up the average academic performance of teachers entering the profession.

2. I don’t view this as a slam dunk case. When considering economic factors, the authors seem to focus more on the teacher labor market and recessions rather than how technology and globalization might be reducing the number of middle class jobs available (and thereby pushing higher-performers into teaching). But I might have this wrong.

3. Additionally, as the author’s note: “academic or cognitive ability is one of the few observable teacher characteristics prior research has shown to be positively and consistently (though not strongly) associated with student achievement.” So the regulations might have caused in increase in teacher academic ability which is positively but not strongly correlated with teacher performance.

3. Are all these regulations worth it? It’s hard to say. Especially when you consider an alternate world: what if NY had instead passed a bunch of laws on school level accountability (with charter autonomies and real consequences for failure) and totally deregulated teacher licensure. This is what happened in New Orleans, and my guess is that teacher academic performance rose more in New Orleans than it did in New York. Someone should do a study on this.

4. I think the researchers should have considered these different policy regimes, rather than just studying the New York policy regime in isolation.

In Sum

Given the choice, I’d choose (1) effective charter school autonomy and accountability with labor market deregulation [NOLA model] than (2) ineffective school level autonomy and accountability with labor market regulation [NY model].

If this choice wasn’t on the table, I might choose (1) ineffective school level autonomy and accountability with labor market regulation rather than (2) ineffective school level autonomy and accountability with labor market deregulation.

I’m torn on whether I’d want (1) effective charter school autonomy and accountability with labor market regulation over (2) effective charter school autonomy and accountability with labor market deregulation.

Much to think about.

1 thought on “What’s the Best Way to Attract Great Teachers: Labor Market Regulation or School Level Decentralization?

  1. Pingback: Teacher Cognitive Skill Seems to Matter, Except in South Korea | relinquishment

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